Orthodox Jewish man photographed covering himself in plastic bag during flight because faith forbids him to fly over cemeteries

April 13, 2013 10:35 am 1 comment Views: 4341

It is not unusual for people to have rituals when flying on a plane, like wearing a St Christopher chain or keeping their eyes closed until they take off.

But one passenger took his beliefs a step further by covering himself in a plastic bag for the whole of his journey because his religion forbids him to fly over cemeteries.

This was the bizarre sight that greeted plane passengers when an Orthodox Jewish man covered himself under a plastic sheet.

It was believed the man is a Kohein, a religious descendant of the priests of ancient Israel, who are banned from flying over cemeteries.

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Sight to see: This photo of a man who appears to be an Orthodox Jew shows him seated aboard a plane while wrapped in a plastic bag, drawing controversy and question on what for

PLASTIC PROVIDES BARRIER FROM ‘IMPURITIES’

Kohanim (plural of Kohein) are the male-line descendants of the priests of ancient Israel.

Descendants are shunned from flying over cemeteries and being in contact with the dead.

Contact with the dead is believed to inflict him with impurity.

Why a plastic bag?

Some consider that the bag provides a potential barrier from the impurities/dead

How can they breathe?

Pre-punched holes invalidate the barrier

If the kohein is putting on the bag and it accidentally rips some leniency to breathe is provided

Contact with the dead would consequently inflict him with impurity.

Problems:

Flights have been delayed or turned around because of the ensuing safety hazards

The passengers would not be able to reach an oxygen mask or quickly escape the plane in the event of an emergency

Many wrap themselves in plastic bags as a compromise measure.

The startling photograph, which has now gone viral after being posted on Reddit, shows fellow passengers straining over their seats to get a look.

Beneath his plastic wrapping, the man is dressed entirely in black, and appears to be wearing a Jewish skullcap or ‘kippah’.

As a controversial solution – not entirely allowed by those in the Jewish Orthodox – the plastic bag creates a kind of barrier between the Kohein and the surrounding tumah, or impurity.

Rabbi Jeffrey W. Goldwasser, of  Temple Beit HaYam in Israel, explained: ‘In orthodox and Conservative communities, Kohanim are expected to abstain from coming in contact with the dead, which includes a prohibition on visiting cemeteries except for the funerals of close relatives.’

Even if they can be secured by a seat belt, the passengers wouldn’t be able to reach an oxygen mask or quickly escape the plane in the event of an emergency.

There is also the question of how they can breathe.

Pre-punched holes in the plastic are said to invalidate the barrier, according to Jewish newspaper YatedNe’eman.

Way around it? Israel's Ben Gurion airport is surrounded by small regional cemeteries, dotted in red, creating long concern for Orthodox Jews trying to fly into the airportWay around it? Israel’s Ben Gurion airport is surrounded by small regional cemeteries, dotted in red, creating long concern for Orthodox Jews trying to fly into the airport

‘Only if when the kohein is putting on this bag it accidentally rips can there be some leniency,’ the article claims.

‘Kohanim have a duty to protect their taharah, purity,’ according to the article.

‘They have been bestowed with extra kedushah which makes them worth of being meshorsei Hashem. At times, there may be extra demands made upon them in order to maintain that standard of kedushah and taharah.’

Some flights go to great lengths to take specific paths to avoid cemeteries.

And passengers can also be made aware in advance if a body will be aboard the plane in cargo.

The photograph, which was posted on the Reddit yesterday, had a caption which read: ‘An Orthodox Jew in an airplane with women – so he covers himself with a plastic bag…’

A strict code of conduct prevents Orthodox Jewish men and women from mixing in public, with Israeli airline El Al seeing an increase in the number of religious men demanding to be reseated away from women in recent years.

An El Al Airline plane. The Orthodox Jewish passenger who wore a plastic bag is thought to have travelled from Tel Aviv, Israel with the airlineAn El Al Airline plane. The Orthodox Jewish passenger who wore a plastic bag is thought to have travelled from Tel Aviv, Israel with the airline

While ultra-Orthodox Jews do follow to strict guidelines which include gender segregation in public, it is claimed this photograph does not show that.

One user of the Reddit site wrote: ‘This has nothing to do with women. He is a cohen, descendant from the high holy priests of the temple and they are not allowed to walk into or fly over a cemetery, which would render them impure.’

It is not known when the photograph was taken, or what airline the man was travelling on, but it is more than likely it was an El Al aircraft flying out of Tel Aviv, which is surrounded by a number of cemetries, according to internet users.

In 2001, El Al Airlines decided not to allow ultra-Orthodox Jews cover themselves in plastic because ‘flight safety considerations do not allow for passengers to board while covered in sealed plastic bags.’

A year later it was reported that flight crew got into an argument with a passenger who attempted to fly wrapped in plastic. The confrontation eventually led the pilot to turn the plane around.

One woman even sued the airline after staff moved her to the back of a plane when an ultra-Orthodox man refused to sit next to her.

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